Friday, March 13, 2009

Napier, NZ

In 1931 Napier, NZ was being crushed by the Great Depression but things suddenly turned worse in February when a 7.6 earthquake demolished most of center city breaking gas lines which naturally led to fires that broken water lines couldn’t do a thing about. Then the shaken people endured 600 aftershocks over the next 2 weeks which, it seems, should have sent them packing but it didn’t.

The earthquake pushed this part of the North Island upward an additional 2 meters expanding Napier by a great deal so the city planners talked things over and decided that Napier should be rebuilt in Art Deco style with wider streets and stronger materials. Looking down one finds that the manhole covers are art deco; looking up the street light poles reflect the same design; and looking around many buildings are decorated in mission style, art deco and Spanish

How did they decide who owned the extra land? How did they work it out who gave up old land in order to make wider streets? How did they pay for all of this building during the depression?

I have none of those answers but do have photos of art deco buildings where people work dressed as though it’ s still 1930 something. Vintage cars are popular - 6 of them came to the dock to greet the Volendam in the morning and another 10 stopped by to see the ship off while the local jazz band played and several passengers jitterbugged their way up the ramp. These little towns really try to make the passengers feel as if they’ve been invited to a party.

There’s an opossum store here because they’ve got an infestation of about 70,000,000 opossums who eat at least 21,000 tones of foliage every night. Trappers catch the animals and their fur is made into slippers, wraps, fur trim or sold as skins. I should add that the opossum here is a long-haired relative to the rat-like American version - rather raccoon like in fur.

More popular than the skin is the fur which is worked into Merino wool for knitted gloves, scarves, socks, hats, vests and sweaters. Socks are about $26 and vests start at $250. I didn’t even look at sweaters prices but will admit that the stuff is cashmere-soft. The store’s motto is, “buy a sweater, save a tree.”

The sunken gardens are picture perfect with a stylized water lily sculpture and mini water wheel. Next to this quiet, reserved area there’s a huge skate park with booming rap music and dozens of ramps and things for skateboarders to try to kill themselves on. There’s also an outdoor roller blade park, a huge playground and a beach.

The town provided free shuttle buses through the working port into town. This area exports pulp to Japan for paper and lumber for construction. The other main export is fruit – primarily apples – and a major import is the cruise passenger supposedly, but this ship came in at 7 and nothing opened till 10 or 11 and then the all aboard was 1:30 so it didn’t leave much time for taking advantage of the well-heeled passengers interested in leaving Euros or dollars in port.

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